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About Swan Bay

Sea Grass Meadows - Base of the Food Chain

Saltmarsh zones at Swan Bay Jetty


  1. Swan Bay Environment Trail
    Commencing from the end of Hesse St over the
    railway line. Information leaflets are available at
    this point and also in King St overlooking Swan Bay.
    Within this 3km return walk there are three viewing
    platforms and a number of seats offering
    opportunities to view some of the many species of
    birdlife and vegetation.

  2. Saltmarsh Gardens
    At the Marine Discovery Centre (DPI Queenscliff).
    Information leaflets available at site.

  3. Boardwalk and Viewing Platform
    At the intersection of Ward and Murray Rds.

  4. Edwards Point Wildlife Reserve
    Entrance from Beach Rd via Cliff St. View diverse
    vegetation by walking along the bush track and
    returning via the beach. Information leaflets
    available at site.

Much of the sandy and muddy bed of Swan Bay is covered with specialised flowering plants called seagrasses. Five species are common in the Bay and they form vast underwater meadows.

Almost everything which lives in the bay feeds on the seagrass, or on something which does. Without seagrass, Swan Bay would be dead. Even dead seagrass is broken down by bacteria and eaten by large numbers of burrowing worms, shellfish, crabs and other crustacea which live in the bed of the Bay. They, in their turn, are eaten by fish and birds.

The seagrass meadows provide shelter and a nursery area for young fish. Among the more abundant species in Swan Bay are Yellow-eyed Mullet and King George Whiting - both important to commercial and amateur fishermen.

Internationally Important for Birds

Nearly 200 species of birds have been seen in Swan Bay. The area has been internationally recognised as a very significant habitat for water birds and is listed on the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The intertidal mudflats of Swan Bay are home each summer to about 10,000 migratory waders, such as plovers, sandpipers, godwits, knots and curlews. The Bay is an important destination for many species which breed as far away as high arctic Siberia and Alaska. Some weigh as little as 30 grams, the weight of a box of matches, yet they fly a round trip of over 24,000 kilometres every year! Eighteen species of wader occur regularly in Swan Bay, reflecting the diversity of invertebrate food in the intertidal mudflats. Each species has a uniquely shaped bill specifically adapted to catch particular invertebrates. In this way, many species can coexist. A good place for observing feeding waders is on the intertidal mudflats around Swan Island.

The most common waders in Swan Bay are the Red-necked Stint (4,000), Curlew Sandpiper (3,000), Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (800), Bar-tailed Godwit (500+), Eastern Curlew (250+) and Grey Plover (200+). The Bay holds a significant proportion of the populations of most of these species.

The Pied Oystercatcher is a common wader which breeds in Swan Bay. These conspicuous black and white birds can be seen flying around the southern parts of the Bay or foraging on the mudflats, probing for invertebrates with their long red bills.

Accompanying the waders on the mudflats are local species, including the Chestnut Teal (a duck), and larger birds such as Royal Spoonbills and Sacred Ibis. Together with the waders, their lives follow a rhythm determined by the tides, feeding during low tide, day or night, and returning to safe roosts on the shores of the Bay as the tide rises again. Up to 300 Chestnut Teal and 120 Royal Spoonbills have been seen there.

Pied Oystercatcher
Pied Oystercatcher

Matthew Flinders named Swan Bay ‘Swan Ponds’, after its Black Swans. These occur in most seasons. Largest numbers, up to 2,700, can be seen in summer and early autumn. These are the only birds which graze the seagrass meadows and their presence in such large numbers attests to the richness of the area.

One of Australia’s most endangered birds, the Orange-bellied Parrot, flies to the Bay from its breeding grounds in south-west Tasmania to spend the winter and early spring. It feeds on the flowers and seeds of plants which grow in the saline marshes around the Bay’s margins and on the fairways of the golf course on Swan Island. This species has declined in number because of the destruction of its saltmarsh habitat. Most of the remaining population of some 120 birds is supported by only three areas in Victoria: Lake Connewarre, Point Wilson (near Werribee) and Swan Bay.

Fairy Tern
Fairy Tern

The rare Fairy Tern is a small grey and white bird with a black cap, long pointed wings and an orange bill. It dives for small fish in the shallow waters of the Bay. The sand dredged from Queenscliff channel at the southern end of Swan Bay has been piped to form an island, and one of the few colonies of this species in Victoria breeds there. Other terns which can be regularly seen are the larger Crested Tern and, largest of all, the Caspian Tern. In summer, flocks of Common Terns, which have migrated from breeding grounds on lakes in northern China and eastern Russia, roost on beaches at the Bay’s entrances.

Unique Vegetation

The margins of Swan Bay are a transition zone between marine and terrestrial environments. Many plant species tolerate a very narrow range of salinity and occur in areas subject to a particular frequency of tidal inundation. These plants show this transition zone well, making up distinct associations which occur in concentric bands around the shore.

Beaded Glasswort
Beaded Glasswort

The seagrass meadows are the purely marine vegetation community. On the lowest, most frequently inundated parts of the shore, the vegetation is dominated by the Beaded Glasswort, a red herb-like plant with succulent stalks but no leaves. Behind this, Shrubby Glasswort, a dark green, woody species, grows up to two metres tall and forms a low shrubland. Further still from the water, the Beaded Glasswort herbfield occurs again. It has a wider tolerance of salinity and of inundation and this zone is probably too dry for the Shrubby Glasswort. A tussock grassland occurs behind this before terrestrial vegetation, such as coastal scrub or pasture, takes over. This can be seen particularly well at the Swan Bay Jetty.

One of the few areas remaining in Swan Bay which holds its full complement of native vegetation is the Edward Point Wildlife Reserve. Here, a series of parallel sand dunes, formed by the action of the wind and the waves, has been colonised by a range of plant communities. These include woodlands of wattles, paper barks and tea-trees on the higher dunes and a number of saltmarsh communities in the lower, wetter areas. Birds such as Spiny-cheeked and Singing Honeyeaters, Golden Whistlers, Superb Fairy Wrens and many others inhabit this vegetation.

A Tranquil Retreat

The beauty and richness
of Swan Bay have survived
until now largely by chance.
Their future existence will
depend on sensitive planning
and good protection under
the watchful eyes
of interested and concerned people.

Swan Bay is a great place to get away from it all. Only just over an hour from Melbourne or twenty minutes from Geelong, it can be reached easily for a quiet Sunday trip. Why not get to know the area better and stay for longer in one of the many caravan parks or lovely old Victorian hotels and guest houses in Queenscliff?

Go for a quiet stroll along the shores of the Bay from Queenscliff. Or walk along the beach or the track at Edward Point Wildlife Reserve near St Leonards. A quiet boat trip across the Bay in pleasant weather is also worthwhile. Whatever you choose, stop from time to time and look around you.

Crabs run across wet sand, a banjo shark glides by, other fish jump out of the water, a flock of Cormorants frantically follows a shoal of young fish, or a graceful black and white Pelican glides to a smooth landing on the water. Swan Bay is a place for contemplation, for appreciating the natural world.

Those with more than a passing interest in nature will find many things to do. Swan Bay offers a wide range of passive recreation opportunities, from some of Victoria’s best bird-watching, to studying plants and wildflowers, or sketching and painting the many moods of the area. It is well worth taking a closer look and spending a bit more time in the Swan Bay - Queenscliff area.

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